At 3:17 p.m. ET, Apollo 11's lander touched down on the lunar surface. Fifty years later, the mission remains one of the most important in the history of space exploration.
To mark the occasion, we asked our readers about their memories regarding the moon landing and what it means to them as part of Apollo Week.
Here’s a sentence that never gets old: Fifty years ago today, we put two men on the Moon. The success of the Apollo 11 mission remains our single greatest achievement, and the event that unified an entire planet on July 20, 1969 continues to inspire and stir as much wonder today as it did back then.
As part of our Apollo Week celebration, we asked Popular Mechanics readers to share their personal stories about the Moon landing and describe what it was like to either watch it live, or explain what the triumph means to them in 2019. Here are our favorite stories, collected from Facebook, Instagram, and email.
Note: Some stories have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
“I was 15 years old with a burning desire of all things science. I watched at my parents’ house, black and white TV. The images were shaky (or maybe just our TV) and very grainy to watch. Didn't matter at all. I watched until my eyes couldn't take it anymore.
Southwest Missouri has had a long history with NASA. The company that made the batteries for virtually all of NASA's missions was in Joplin, Missouri. Many machine shops did business with aerospace companies from out in Wichita, Kansas. Today, I am less than 2 months away from retiring, but for the last 13.5 years, I've worked in maintenance at the very same company in Joplin that still makes the majority of batteries for NASA.
From the Mars Rovers to the Hubble, and everything in between, it has been my honor to contribute my very small part to space exploration. From being captivated by news of Sputnik at a very young age, to winding down to my retirement, I am still captivated by all things science. Enough so that I've gotten my name included on a microchip on Insight, the Mars lander, the Parker Solar Probe, and also the upcoming Mars 2020 spacecraft. Maybe someone far into the future will read my name and say, hey! There is Steve’s name again!”
- Stephen Collins
“I was perched on a chair in my parents’ family room watching the landing, expecting the evil space creatures to jump out and grab them at any moment. I was 17 and both scared and mesmerized about the whole thing.”
- Susan Perry
“I was 18 months old, and my dad got me out of bed to watch the landing on TV. I wanted to play, but he sat me on his knee and said ‘This is history in the making, watch this.’ It’s my earliest memory and I’m so glad he did that for me.”
- Kris Kael
“I was in front of the TV with my mouth open. The most amazing thing that little 9-year-old boy had ever seen.”
- Frank Looper
“At home watching on TV wondering if they thought about the service module may collide with the command module when it separated. I would have called NASA, but no one would listen to a 9-year-old.”
- Benj Trollinger
“The Apollo 11 Moon Landing was one of our greatest achievements. When Kennedy gave the challenge to land on the Moon by the end of the decade, NASA and the Astronauts involved did it. This June I got to take a trip with my wife, our two little girls (ages 3 years and 6 months) and our cousin to the Destination Moon Exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA. Being able to walk through all of the artifacts on display from a test model of the rocket engine, to actual rocket engine that was used on launch and crashed into the ocean after use, and a service module, to the door and parts of the EVA suits used on the Moon.
I felt pure joy of being able to walk through something that showed how our country came together to make it happen and brought some peace to our chaotic world at the time. The challenges brought forth with all of the moving parts of the whole mission keep me moving forward when faced with challenges. I hope that I get to see the day we make the next big step either back to the Moon, to an asteriod, and or Mars.”
- Thomas Ertz
“I was working in Summer Stock in a tent theater outside of Albany, NY. We were showing the operetta ‘The Student Prince’ starring the singer John Gary. The show started as normal but after a few minutes Gary dropped character and said to the audience, ‘This is crazy. We all should be home watching history.’
He then left the stage and went out to a mobile home he was using as his dressing room. The stage manager put on the house lights and sent the cast, crew, and audience home.
Those of us working at the theater ending up watching the news on a small black and white ‘portable’ with tin foil wrapped around the rabbit ear antennae. The fuzzy lunar feed was almost indecipherable on the small TV placed in the back of the empty theater.
I heard that Gary's actions were subject to an Actor's Equity investigation.”
- Steve West-Rosenthal
“We did not have a TV at the time, so I was over at a family friend’s house, lying on the sofa, watching on their TV. I was especially glad to be there as it allowed me to miss Sunday School.
I remember the announcers being surprised that Armstrong’s pulse was at 180, but come on, he was landing on the Moon! I also remember being disappointed that I couldn’t tell by their moonwalk movements that the gravity was much less than on earth.”
- Christopher Condit
“Watching on TV at home. It was an awesome accomplishment. As a kid watching this happen, it was a great moment in my life. Looking up at the Moon and wondering what the astronauts were feeling looking back at us was an experience of a lifetime.”
- Kenneth McConkey
“I was a kid in southern California, glued to the TV set. I would count every countdown. Still am glued to Space, from working 36 years in aerospace to following SpaceX to NASA and JPL, to everything on TV about space program and avid sci-fi fan. Is that enough for ya?”
- Alyx Black
“I remember the day well. I was in training at Ft. Bragg, NC preparing to deploy to Vietnam in August. What it meant to me? Was just totally amazed it actually happened. Today? A big win for the USA in the Cold War.”
- Harry Verburg
“I was 7 years old and watching on TV. I grew up in Florida and my family watched the launches from the roof of our house. Once the rocket took off, we ran outside, up the ladder, and within a minute could see it going.”
- Belinda Conner
“Watched it with my 80-year-old grandparents. My grandmother looked at the TV and asked what sci-fi show we were watching. My grandfather said, ‘It’s live from the Moon.’ My grandmother went and looked at the Moon from the backyard, came back in and said, ‘No, that has to be a TV show of some kind.’ Grandpa said, ‘No, it’s live from the moon, Marion.’ Grandpa was born in 1890, and my grandmother was born in 1895.”
- Christine Holman
“I was at a sleep-away boys camp. I told my mother I wouldn't go unless [she was] sure I could watch the Moon landing and walk. My mother checked and was assured I could watch it. As it turned out the whole camp watched it. We stayed up well past our bedtime watching several small black and white TVs. As amazed as us boys were, the counselors were even more amazed.”
- Tom Trevor
“I was on Earth with everyone else (except for Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins).”
- Richard Palmer
“I was playing baseball and mom called me home to watch. I was mad, until I saw why.”
- Jack McClintic
“It was a time as a nation, for a brief minute, we believed that anything was possible. Now half a century later, we realize our place is among the stars.”
- Robert Williamson
“I was 12 and we watched it in my parents living room in H-town. It was mind blowing and really got me hooked on Astronomy. I’m still hooked.”
- Gregg Wilson
“I was just 4 months old. So I have no personal memories of Apollo 11. But I remember watching the Apollo-Soyuz docking, and the landing tests of the shuttle Enterprise. And the Voyager and Viking probes, which were launched by rockets my father helped design. For me, growing up, the space program was a powerful symbol of knowledge and discovery for its own sake. People could work together to learn about the universe and our place in it. We didn’t do this for military or political advantage. We did it because it enriched all of our lives.”
- Darin Foat
“Cross legged on the carpet staring at the TV in Poole, England, aged nine years and three months. Has lived with me all of my life and it made me want to be an Engineer. My Grandson will be 9 years and five months. He just did a school project on Neil Armstrong and built the Lego Saturn V, all 1969 pieces in 7 hours unaided. It is, in my opinion, the greatest feat of engineering in the history of man.”
- Adrian Kelley
“I was 17, had followed Mercury, Gemini, and was excited for Apollo 11, especially after the disaster of Apollo 1 on the ground in ‘66. I was glued to the TV, had a reel-to-reel audio recorder taping 3 days of broadcast events (pre DVRs for you young folks!) of the landing, etc. I am glad to relive the landing 50 years later.”
- Tom Freed
“I was 12, living in Angola where I was born and raised. There was no television so we followed the events by listening to the Portuguese National Broadcast Station! I recall vividly the moment of the lunar landing being announced by the journalist covering the event; the man was shouting loud in excitement!”
- Carlos Garcez
“The most momentous moment in human history, when Homo Sapiens collectively became part of a spacefaring race. I was only 8 years old at the time, but even at that age I felt the door to infinite possibilities open.”
- Mark Flower
“I was 5 years old and was allowed to watch it on TV with my parents. I saw the start on TV and was woken up to see the landing and Neil’s first steps on the moon. It was one of the most important things I’ve ever seen in my life. I am from Germany.”
- Kay Kohler
“We were living on the Reservation and all gathered around the TV watching the horrible quality video, proud of the three Astronauts and the accomplishment of NASA and the Country.”
- Dave Nance
“I was 16. Still the coolest thing I have ever seen.”
- Charlie Marr
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